When he says nothing at all

The TV-shy Enda in happier times.

Trying to gauge the election from afar is like trying to guess the weather in Cork by looking out the window in Dublin. Despite access to Irish media and the general chatter on Twitter and suchlike, there’s a very big chance I’m getting the wrong end of the stick on at least some of the issues.

In all but one issue, that is to say. All weekend, I haven’t heard a single voice that has said that Enda Kenny is right not to go on TV3 for the leader’s debate hosted by Vincent Browne. Now Kenny is many things, but a good debater is not one of them.  So instead of going on the telly and suffering his way through what would inevitably be a thoroughly good kicking like a man, he has made up excuse after excuse, each more outlandish and insulting than the last.

First, it was the “suicide” jibe (Browne famously suggested that, during a turbulent time in Fine Gael, he should consider going into a locked room with a bottle of whiskey and a gun), and when it was pointed out that Browne had apologised more or less immediately for that one, Kenny pompously stated that his chair should be left empty as a symbol of those forced to emigrate.

I suggested that instead of leaving it empty, a bag of chips should be placed on it, in memory of those who died in the famine. I haven’t heard back from the Kenny camp on that one yet.

Now, he says he has to be in Leitrim instead- possibly the most insulting excuse of them all. Does he seriously think that, as party leader and prospective Taoiseach, his interests are best served by going to Leitrim instead of appearing on what would be the most-anticipated debate of the whole election campaign?

Somewhere in the Fine Gael bunker, the spinning has gotten out of control. Politicians and PR people seldom set out to deliberately mislead people- though it does happen- but it seems that what started out as an excercise in containment to keep Kenny out of a situation he is no good in has morphed into serious questions about his judgement and leadership, as well as that of the party which elected him leader.

What is worse still is that it is quite pointless. Even a politician with limited debating skills like Kenny can play to his strengths and refuse to be drawn into making a show of himself – it is often the arrogant know-alls that fall into the traps laid by the wily Browne, rather than those wise enough to keep their own counsel.

Nowhere in the constitution does it say that the Taoiseach has to be an orator of Shakespearean class; a competent, controlled performance is all that is required of him. Brilliance is not needed; the country needs leadership, not lyricism, and the place to show leadership for Enda Kenny is on live TV, not in a Leitrim parish hall.

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